The lights are on
During our visit to Avalanche Studios’ offices, I spent hours exploring the Wasteland. That meant that I experienced Mad Max’s day/night cycle several times over. Senior producer John Fuller pointed out that the night sky featured a meticulously accurate recreation of what you’d see in the Southern Hemisphere. I’d heard the team mention it a few times, but it seemed like a perfect time to ask outright: Where exactly is the Wasteland? We’re in Australia, right? Not really, it turns out.
George Miller directed his films in Australia, so it’s a natural assumption that the game would be set there, too. That location worked in movie-length adventures, but games require a different approach – especially large, open worlds. The creative team at Avalanche didn’t want to pen themselves into a particular place, since it was important that players explored a variety of terrain and not just an endless desert. That decision also gave them freedom to create the backstory to their Wasteland, which they did – to a point.
“We don’t know where it is in the world,” says senior game designer Emil Kraftling. “The player doesn’t know where it is in the world. The people in the world hardly know where it is in the world. There’s a sense of mystery to the Wasteland.”
In other words, confusing at it may seem, sometimes a night sky is just a night sky. To further shake players off the scent, Avalanche says its Mad Max game isn’t set anywhere within the past films’ timelines. They’ve created their own version of the character, working closely with Miller, so Avalanche isn’t beholden to what happened all those years ago. As an example, Odd Ahlgren, the game’s director of narrative design, says that in their interpretation of the character, Max may not have been a police officer. He does have advanced military training, which he exhibits in the game’s combat. Don’t let Max’s Aussie accent fool you either. The language spoken in this mysterious region is a hodge-podge. “It’s sort of a Wasteland Creole, which has components from all over the civilized world,” Ahlgren says. “We have accents from all over the world.”
Similarly to how they didn't want to commit to a real-world location in the game, not adhering to the older films' timelines frees up the team creatively. There wasn't a clean path leading to the start of the game, so they essentially started fresh. "It definitely takes place before the new movie that's coming out soon, but we've put a lot of effort into resetting what the Mad Max universe is," says game director Frank Rooke. "So essentially, there is no past. The most that we can say is that it takes place before the movie that's coming out. It's definitely taking place in the Mad Max world that we're familiar with, but when you think of a timeline, that's the thing that we're resetting. We're not getting caught up in the past, we're not going to be thinking about exactly how the chain of events led up until now, it's just the idea that something terrible happened, some post-apocalyptic moment happened that brought us to this point. And that is the Mad Max that we have."
Being Mad Max fans, Avalanche did include a few nods to the movies, such as the Dinki-Di dog-food cans that Max can eat – the same brand shown in The Road Warrior. There’s also a dog companion in the game, which looks an awful lot like the Australian cattle dog that Max leaned on in the same film.
Just to further complicate things, perceptive players might notice an Easter egg in Chumbucket’s ship/garage. The walls of the vessel are rusted out, and you can see that the sun shines a beam of light through one of the holes and onto the Magnum Opus’ plans. The shape of that beam? Australia, of course. Oh, brother.
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